After Duke loses, I pull out my watch and start counting the seconds. It's unusual that I reach 10 before hearing my phone ring with my parents on the other end ready to offer their take on what just took place.
Usually the conversation goes something like this:
Mrs. Beaton: What was that?!? They stink!!! What is Coach K thinking?!?
Me: Can you put Dad on the phone?
After the Blue Devils lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last weekend, my phone didn't ring. It was probably a good thing; I wasn't much in the mood to talk.
Several hours later, when I finally began to accept that I would never again watch the Blue Devils play as a Duke undergraduate-knock on wood, pending my graduation, of course-I fired up my laptop to read what the rest of Duke nation was saying, hoping they might have more valuable insights than my mother (sorry, Mom).
For most Blue Devil fans, myself included, DukeBasketballReport.com is the first stop at a time like this. There are a few other Duke basketball websites with lively message boards, but DBR is the most active and accessible. It doesn't charge a subscription fee and doesn't even require registration to "lurk"-that is, reading what others are saying without contributing.
Unfortunately, on this night, DBR's message board had been shut down. The moderators posted a note: "We're turning the board off for a bit. Some of you are out of control. We will be back."
This isn't about my distaste for the DBR moderators. (My editors don't give me enough space to fully explain the hypocrisy of an institution that shuts down its message boards when a few too many people speak poorly of Duke players-because they are just students and kids after all!-yet think it's OK to use an exclamation point to punctuate their headline about a Wake Forest recruit who has been arrested for allegedly shooting a woman with a BB gun.)
It is about the notion they expressed, which is that the Duke fans who caused the message board shutdown by being too critical are "fickle and spoiled" and "ignorant and foolish," as they wrote in a column posted on their website the next day. (By the way, that column also blamed the West Virginia loss on the flu, which was interesting coming from a website with a specific policy against rumor-mongering. But again, this isn't about DBR.)
Now, I know some of the fans who were expressing the types of sentiments that I'm sure drove the DBR moderators nuts. I think an argument can be made for them being "spoiled" and maybe even foolish at times.
But fickle? Ignorant?
Far from it.
In fact, I'd argue that some of the best sports fans are the ones who take off their Duke-blue glasses from time to time and criticize their team when they don't like what they see. It doesn't mean that they aren't informed about the team or the sport, and it doesn't mean they're fair-weather fans. If anything, it means they care about their team to such an extent that they aren't able to tolerate the current state, that they want to improve upon the status quo. And sometimes when people invest themselves so heavily in anything, they express those feelings with emotion.
We watch sports because they give us a sense of purpose and community, even if there are much more important things in our lives. We celebrate when our teams win, and we become more upset than we should be when our teams lose.
Part of what makes this process so fun is the opportunity to second-guess coaching decisions and criticize players for things that we know deep down we couldn't do any better ourselves. For example, how many times this season did a fellow Duke fan turn to you and claim they could make more free throws than DeMarcus Nelson or ask why Coach K wasn't playing Taylor King in the second half?
That doesn't mean when fans complain, they are always right-or even usually right for that matter. There's a reason people like Coach K have the jobs they do, and the rest of us are stuck sitting in the stands.
At the same time, when your team loses it's not blasphemy to suggest that the vaunted coach might be spending too much time moonlighting as Team USA's coach, or to wonder if the team could use a new assistant, or to ask questions about why the team's recruiting has slipped from what it once was.
Are any of those the key to Duke's success in the future? Only time will tell. But part of being a "good, passionate fan"-DBR's words, not mine-is the ability to step back and be critical when we are disappointed.
It's tough love. But it's not hate.
Hey, even my mom does it.
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